Wednesday, August 20, 2008

growing up disappointed

In a recent article Amy Reiter interviews Sandra Tsing Loh, author of a book called "Mother on Fire" about the state of U.S. school system from the perspective of a freaked-out parent conditioned to fear public schools. But Loh also offers a dead-on summary of the experience of growing up in today's post-boomer, media-soaked, vaguely entitled age:

I think it's partly a generational thing. I'm 46. In our 20s, women in my generation, we all wanted to be Laurie Anderson. "Oh, she's playing violin on roller skates on an ice block in New York City and going directly from that to her Warner Bros. 'O Superman' tour." So we thought that's what you do: You stay true to your own artistic principles, you don't compromise anything, and then you end up with a giant record deal, all this money and a fashion spread in British Vogue. You go to college, don't get married, don't have kids, become Laurie Anderson, make all this money and sing your song. And then our 30s came along, and reality set in.

I can't speak for the people I went to high school and university with, but this sums up the attitude so many of us had in our youth. Most of all we were convinced of our specialness. We thought that the world would unfold around us in a way that would bring us our deserved destinies. I didn't want to be Laurie Anderson, but I wouldn't have said no to being Lou Reed (bah bah bah satellite of loooove) or Tom Waits or Thomas Pynchon or whoever. And that's not to say that I still couldn't achieve something grand, but somewhere along the way we all twig to the fact that we are uniquely, splendidly ordinary. We are not exempt from chance, stupidity, tragedy and the consequences of staying out all night. My back surgery, my wife's cancer, our shared struggles to find a proper direction in life, have shown us what it means to be ordinary, to be an adult in an unpredictable world. It is a kind of gift, even if it's one that my teenage self does not want to unwrap. And now that we've put on the ugly sweater vest of ordinariness, I think we can move forward.

That being said, I think the most important thing to take away from this post is that I read I also chuckle at McSweeney's, peruse the New York Review of Books when I'm of a mind to, eschew grocery store chains for the charming organic market, and of an evening I enjoy a nice pipe and the finest pornography that the mid-eighties had to offer.


Chris said...

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a guy at my 20th high school reunion. He confessed that he once looked upon me with great admiration and so much wanted to be what I was (a handsome captain of the football team) and have the things that I had ( the Homecoming Queen for a girlfriend).

He then went on to tell me that after his IPO hit and finally had more money than God, he married a Playmate and bought himself a pro football team.

palinode said...

Chris - What a bastard.

Chris said...

I can't speak to the particulars of his birth, but I do remember his mom got around.

Helvetica said...

I must say that I, personally, had exactly the opposite experience from what you describe. The older I get the freer and more in control of my destiny I feel. Maybe it's a prairie thing, but I feel I was conditioned to believe that if I didn't work like hell at things I hated for my entire life I'd be constantly poor, alone and miserable. Also fat. Why fat I don't know, but that was definitely an inevitability for those who dared evade Hard Work and Sensible Occupations. I often now think (although I did sacrifice several years to hard hated work) that I'm getting away with something by living what (I consider) a "special" life.

You can call me, 'Sir' said...

A pipe and some nice porn. You have a sophistication that screams 'Old Spice aftershave'.

ozma said...

I kind of had that thing when I was really young--before college young. The kind of 'I can be a super genius poet.'

Then I went to college and wanted to get a Ph.D. and do academia. Hard stuff. Stuff I wasn't even good at. So I kind of had to be like...Plato or something. That was impossible, clearly impossible. The best I could hope for would be to hang around and not get booted out of my grad program. So I did that.

In a way that seemed like a miracle, sort of like paying my rent does now--because I'm not sure I'll be doing that in a year or two.

Point being, college beat me down many notches, life beat me down more, I now yearn for death's cold embrace. This somehow insulates me from middle aged disappointment but when I realize death's cold embrace is not forthcoming I sort of have that twinge that I could have done so much more had I not been insane.

Deb on the Rocks said...

By and large previous generations did not feel entitled and aspired to do better financially than the generation before.

Ours thought we were rebellious by aspiring to do something distinctive, assuming that we would also do better financially.


lotus07 said...

I had Laurie Anderson's 4 disc Live LP of her Superman Tour when I was in college (not CD mind you, 'LP'). You are correct that we all wanted to be like her (or her persona) but we all found out we were ordinary after the world beat us down in our 30s.

Then a funny thing happened. In our 40s and 50s 'some' of us, found out we were special. Not special in the Laurie Anderson way, but in our own ways and we started to spin off in those directions.

The moral being, that for some of us, you can't become special until you know what it is like to be ordinary.

palinode said...

helvetica - I cannot picture you as overweight. That would be a very strange version of you. But if I were asked off the top of my head for an exception to the rule I've laid down, you would come to mind immediately.

'sir' - I bathe in Old Spice and I drink Aqua Velva.

ozma - I don't know what to say, except that I hope you find something better than death to insulate yourself from disappointed.

deb/rocks - It's a bit of Gens X&Y thing, isn't it?

lotus07 - Well said.

DOT said...

The 'sweater vest of ordinariness' - what a great line. However, I believe that we all wear this sweater with a different swagger, if I can stretch the metaphor that far.

The extraordinariness of each of us is only lifted into relief by the common ordinariness of us all.

I can give you a few years in age and I recognise the desire of every young person to stand out from the herd, which includes the absolute belief that they will achieve this dubious celebratory. It is, to generalise, an expression of a yet unformed, uninformed sense of self.

Once you are happy in your skin and have a reasonably objective idea of yourself, you start to see what makes you different, special, unrepeatable. And you see the same in those around you.

palinode said...

dot - I really like the us of 'unrepeatable' to describe uniqueness. Thanks for your comment.